Daniel M. Cohen

Goats and the UN Insecurity Council

The other day I read an article indicating that the UN Security Council was, yet again, holding an emergency meeting to deal with an international crisis. That crisis is not the Syrian Civil War, nor is ISIS’ beheading of journalists as they occupy an increasingly large area in their effort to create a califate. The crisis isn’t even the very real security concerns raised by the growing Ebola epidemic, which seems to be growing almost exponentially. This emergency meeting was held to address the international crisis caused by Israel pulling building permits and announcing plans that may eventually result in new construction in Jerusalem and lands deemed occupied by many in the international community.

Without getting into the issue of whether Israel has the legal right to do this (the jury is out since this is a more complex and nuanced issue than the media makes it out to be) or the wisdom of its timing (I would argue the “lack of wisdom of its timing”), I was immediately struck by the the hypocrisy the meeting revealed. I could not help wonder where the emergency Security Council meetings addressing the very real crises I just listed — and many more that are unfolding at this moment — are. ISIS threatens to destabilize the entire region. The Ebola outbreak isn’t anywhere close to being contained; it too could easily have a destabilizing effect. Hundreds, even thousands, of people are dying each day, and yet the UN Security Council calls an emergency meeting to address Israeli construction that may be months or years away from actually happening.

And then I realized… Israel is to the world what the scapegoat was to our Israelite ancestors.

And Aaron shall place lots upon the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other for Azazel. (Lev 16:8)

Biblical tradition indicates that in order to atone, our ancestors would take two goats, slaughter one as a sacrifice to God and send the other- the scapegoat- into the wilderness to atone for their sins. This simple but focused act allowed our ancestors to feel cleansed of their transgressions without their having to make any real behavioral changes. It justified their missteps by letting them feel better, but it had no real or lasting impact.

Israel serves a similar function for the hyper-obsessed UN Security Council as the scapegoat. It allows so-called leaders to focus on something without having to address any of the real, systemic issues that exist. This obsession with Israel justifies their existence without their having to take any actual steps toward increasing security in the world. As such, their behavior is not just negatively impacting Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but it is irresponsible for the larger world.

The problem with the scapegoat was that it didn’t have any real impact. If our ancestors really wanted things to be different they needed to focus on their behavior and actually change it.

Similarly, if the UN Security Council wants to have any meaningful impact they need to address some of the very real and very pressing issues that currently exist in the world. Yes, striving for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is one of these issues.. but it is just one of them. If there is going to be real improvement in the overall security the UN Security Council seeks, then peace between Israel and the Palestinians cannot continue to be the focus to the exclusion of all else. Sadly, it looks like that is what will continue to happen for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, it oftentimes seems that for the UN, and much of the world, Israel isn’t just the goat sent into the wilderness — it is the one that is sacrificed as well.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Cohen was ordained in 1993 by the HUC-JIR and has served Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel since 1993. An avid technology geek, for fun he writes for the tech blog Gear Diary.
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